I recently attended a seminar on work-life balance. The keynote speaker was a forty-something frequent-flier with 14 credit cards and a supportive spouse. He shared his personal experience of handling this sensitive issue.
"I am a busy chap with a crazy schedule but no matter what, I fly back home for the weekend."
Wow. That's so thoughtful. It's good for the kids to know they have a father (mom didn't just make him up). It's good for the wife to know she has a husband (and declare it with a 'what a cute family' pic on Facebook).
There are more and more jobs in corporate India where one middle-aged mutant management warrior is expected to do the work of three normal human beings. To compensate, they are paid 3X the salary of a normal human being. However, time is finite and there is no Scotty to beam you up from BKC to Bengaluru. Hence these corporate ninjas spend most of their life in transit, in lounges and in hotels. Away from family.
Which brings me to the crucial point of this article. If a woman took up such a job profile, would she have a family? Would her husband be lonely and depressed but put up a brave front every Friday evening? Would he unpack a suitcase filled with creased clothes and dirty underwear? Would he ask the kids to be quiet so mummy 'can get some rest' before she is ready to play? You know the answer to all of the above is 'no'. Hence, the entire premise of balance is flawed. We are designing jobs which are all-work, no-life - and these are the 'Day Zero' jobs our brightest and best aspire for.
The only way a man can do the work of three people is if he has outsourced vast chunks of 'life' to someone else. One such guy I met recently compared the life of a CEO to that of an athelete. If an Olympic gold winner needs a nutritionist, physiotherapist, psychologist and coach - so does the CEO. Hence the corporate ninja has a secretary, driver, travel agent, yoga instructor, and financial planner. But as they say at Mastercard, there are some things money can't buy. And that's why you need a good wife.
The good wife manages the maid who makes the lunch, the driver who picks up the kids, the in-laws who complain their son has no time. She attends PTA meetings, poojas and pays the paperwallah. In short, she heads a multi-dimensional domestic empire.
But she is neither the housewife her mother was nor the career woman she aspired to be. Who exactly is she? A stay-at-home mom? Or a work-for-home professional?
The notion of work-life balance has to be tilted at the very top. Punish the CEO who keeps a punishing schedule. Everyone should travel less, use more technology. Limit the hours at work and make those hours super-productive.
Because one day all these women with yellowing certificates will refuse to unpack that suitcase. Men will have to deal with the stink of underwear and the stench of unrealised dreams.